By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Spades"
Other columns by Joe Andrews:
"Live Hearts Tournamnts
The game of Hearts has become an Internet standard. It does not have the number of players that Spades and Euchre can claim;
however, there are thousands and thousands of devotees who enjoy the camaraderie and competition of Hearts. Leagues and Clubs
abound, and the Zone regularly sponsors online prize events. Organized live Hearts events are few and far between.
Of course, there are lots of families who play Hearts at home, and the game is popular on college campuses and in the military.
The New England Hearts Players' Association was launched (by yours truly) in the fall of 1971 at Boston University. From a modest turnout of 12 players at the first tournament, the size of the events grew to an average of more than 60 players during that school year. Boston is a college town, and it was rather easy to attract students who enjoyed the game. The entry fee was only $3.00, and a three-game format, plus playoffs, was offered. At first, small trophies were awarded. As the series grew, more events were added, and a Tournament of Champions was offered as the last event of the season. During the next few years, attendance averaged more than 120 participants. In 1975, a charity series called Hearts for Hearts was added, and proceeds from two designated tournaments were donated to the American Heart Association. More than $10,000 was raised in four years -- a tidy sum for those days! The Boston Globe, Games Magazine, and Popular Bridge Magazine featured full-length articles about the events and the players. The high-water mark was reached in late 1979, with a 200 player tournament that was held at the Prudential Center in Boston. In 1980, I relocated to another area, and the Hearts tournaments were disbanded. Smaller tournaments were resumed on a local basis in the mid-1990s; however, the big turnouts of the old days never materialized.
The Chicago Hearts Players League was founded in the early 1980s. Dedicated players such as Gardner Coughlin and Tom Walter worked very diligently to promote Hearts in the northern IL area. After a few years, the "corps" group had grown to more than 50 individuals. Four tournaments were scheduled each year, with a Grand Championship held in Joliet, IL -- usually in mid-February -- and as close to St. Valentine’s Day as possible! Unlike the New England Series, which had gaudy numbers and new players most of the time, the Chicago players became regulars and returned year after year. I had the pleasure of attending a few of their tournaments, and I was impressed with the level of the competition, as well as the directing of the events. And this series is STILL running!
FYI, the last major live Hearts event was the famous Las Vegas 1999 Nationals, which were sponsored by the Zone. One hundred and forty-four Hearts players competed for more than $7,000 in cash prizes. (More than 300 played in the Spades Section!) Although the numbers of participants in subsequent years diminished, Hearts was still part of the annual Grand Prix series. That event lasted from 1999 - 2011.
An Interesting Hand
Many years ago, at one of the New England live events, tournament player Orin Johnson performed superbly in a tournament finals. He was dealt a rotten hand, which I present here. (The pass was to the left; the first hand of the game.)
A, Q 10 9, A K Q J 9 , A K J 6
Pretty awful, eh? Because he held two dreadful (minor) suits, Orin decided to unload his weak Heart suit and hope for the best. Sure enough, he was passed a middle Heart (the Jack) and the K-Q of Spades. Now his hand looked like this:
A K Q, J, A K Q J 9 , A K J 6
The opponents were seasoned players, and there was no way that anyone would duck the Jack of Hearts! Here's a fun puzzle for you to ponder during the next few days. Although the cause looks pretty bleak, what is the only reasonable chance (assuming normal distribution of the suits) for Orin to escape from his hand with minimal damage? And what is the best-case scenario? Thus, there is only one answer. Note: the Jack of Hearts should be taken by one of the opponents. The Deuce of Clubs has been led from the player to Orin's left. The Queen and 10 of Clubs appear. Now what?
Best line of play.
Duck the first round of clubs. Win the return of any suit with a high card. (including Spades.) Now run the diamonds and clubs. Reduce the hand to the Jack of Hearts and the Queen of Spades (last 2 cards). Lead the Jack of Hearts. If it is ducked by all, you have the Moon!
The defender who wins this trick, must reduce his hand to a low Spade and a winning Heart. It will be interesting to see which Hearts the defenders choose to keep.
"Keeper," or "Hold," Hands, The Debate -- Pro or Con
Every fourth deal features a "Hold" hand. In other words, there is no pass, and you must proceed with what you are dealt. Some players like this rule; others don't. At live events, there is always a discussion about hold hands. The most common argument is "We've always done it that way." How do you weigh in on this issue? Send your comments about "hold" hands (Pro or Con) to this e-mail address: email@example.com. I will feature the results of the survey in a future column.